Brendan Gan left the A-League in 2011 and hasn’t looked back, becoming a star in the Malaysian Super League and an established member of the Malaysian national team.
An Australian with Malaysian heritage, Gan came through the ranks of the Sutherland Sharks before debuting for Sydney FC in 2008.
The midfielder made 34 first-team appearances before being released by the Sky Blues. Gan has since spent the past eight years in football-mad south-east Asia with Sabah, Kelantan, Perak and now Selangor - and has no regrets about leaving home.
“100%. In Australia I feel like we’re a bit secluded from the rest of the world,” he told The World Game.
“Our leagues and whatnot, we don’t really understand what’s going on overseas and in other leagues. I feel like back then we looked down on south-east Asian football.
“For me to come over here and take that step, I was risking my career as well. But once I got here and saw the fans, the support for football in general… you go past any shop and if it has got a TV there they’re playing EPL, they’re playing Serie A, they’re playing all types of football.
“The south-east Asian environment is just crazy about football and I love that, I love that feeling of fans coming out to the games passionate. Not just families coming for a Sunday night out.
“So that’s what I love about it. They get involved and it makes the atmosphere of football so more enticing. It was a bit of a risk to come here but it’s kind of paid off, in the long run, being able to represent Malaysia and doing quite well in the domestic league.
“The next step is to push Malaysia forward in terms of the Asian Champions League and get really well-recognised within the Asian football community. We’re getting better every year, it’s only up from here.”
It hasn’t been all rosy for Gan, with the 31-year-old battling two debilitating ACL injuries in 2015 and 2016 that threatened his career. But the midfielder has fought back and recovered and has just joined Malaysian giants Selangor for the new 2020 season.
“Eight years is pretty crazy when you say it. There’s been a lot of ups and a lot of downs but loving my time that I have been here,” he said.
“There’s been a lot of downtimes here when I was injured. I guess in an easy way to put it a lot of people have been through a lot worse.
“At the time it felt like the end of the world to me. But when you come out of that and you get fit again and you look back on those days and think why was I in that headspace, why was I struggling mentally with that sort of stuff when a lot of people are going through worse things in life.
“You can’t complain at the end of the day.”
Gan had two years with Perak where he was coached by former Socceroo Mehmet Durakovic. At the club he won the Malaysian Cup in 2018.
But at the end of last year he switched to the Red Giants.
“There was a few issues underlying there,” Gan admitted.
“At the time I wanted to stay, the club wanted me to stay, but we just couldn’t come to an agreement on small things. I didn’t really feel like I was wanted to stay under management.
“I have nothing against them, it’s business at the end of the day. Selangor were coming for me for a few months and I really felt like they wanted me at the club.
“As a player that’s what you want. Selangor is a massive club, it’s one of the biggest in south-east Asia. I can hopefully bring back those Championship feelings in the two years that I’m here.
“Life’s good here. KL [Kuala Lumpur] is a pretty cool city to live. You can get the Sydney vibe of café shops and that if you search hard enough, but then you get Asian living [too].
“We have really good facilities and good staff. It took a while for the South-East Asian countries to get amongst the development of facilities and youth, but this club is all about that now.”
In 2016 Gan, who’s father is Malaysian, made his debut for the senior Malaysian national team after acquiring a Malaysian passport. He has gone on to make 15 appearances for Harimau Malaya.
“It’s special,” Gan said.
“My father gets so excited every time I put the jersey on and represent that badge. It’s one of those things where when I made my debut I wasn’t really sure what I was representing.
“Obviously when I put that shirt on I give 100%, no matter what the badge is. But at the same time once you get to know the culture, the spirit of Malaysian football it just makes you so excited to play for the country.
“And when we did play our qualifiers for this World Cup coming up, we played at home in front of 90,000 people all cheering for us. It makes the hairs on your neck stand up and it’s incredible to be part of that.
“I feel really blessed to be able to represent the country when there’s so much passion for it.”
Malaysia are currently sitting in second spot in Group G in the Asian qualifiers for the 2022 World Cup, two points behind group leaders Vietnam. The country has never qualified for a World Cup and could secure a birth in the 2023 Asian Cup by finishing in the top.
If Harimau Malaya can get through to the next round, they could even up possibly facing the Socceroos on the road to Qatar.
“Me and Matt Davies [another Australian playing for Malaysia] have spoken about that,” Gan said.
“It would be amazing. It just goes to show that if you move overseas football doesn’t end there, whatever you want to attempt to get in life, you can always get it.
“If we can finish as high as we can going into last year, people look at those ladders. They look at the groups and see who is first, second and third… there’s a lot to play for us.
“We can accomplish something here. There’s that belief in the team. Hopefully, we can surprise a few people and if not make it to the next round, then make it to the Asian Cup – that would be amazing.”
But for now, Gan is focused purely on his club side and continuing to perform. After three rounds Selangor sits in seventh spot in the 12-team Malaysian Super League with a win and two draws.
Currently, there are six Australians playing across Malaysia’s top flight and one coaching. Gan was a trailblazer as an Aussie with Malaysian heritage in the division and expects football across the region to continue to improve in the future.
“The funny thing is everywhere I’ve played at there’s been an Aussie,” he said.
“I think the latest one is Antony Golec, he plays for Perak now. I’ve got Taylor Reagan here at Selangor, he’s captain here and doing a great job.
“I get calls on a weekly basis 'hey is there anything in Malaysia for me?' from Aussies in the A-League. I think people are seeing we’re all here and doing well, and Aussies can make a good name for themselves here because of the Asian quota.
“Aussies are seen as your tough, hard-hitting players that have a bit of quality as well. It’s funny that… I don’t know if people are trying to move out of the A-League, or the A-League has become a little bit stagnant.
“I still watch the A-League over here and I love watching all the boys run out and play. But at the same time, I can see what they’re saying.
“Maybe it’s not such a spectator sport whereas Malaysia is that end-to-end type of football that spectators love to watch. A sport in Australia is just let's go out there on a Sunday arvo or a Saturday night and watch it with the family.
“It’s not so much I’m going there because I love this team or I love this sport. So it’s really good to see in south-east Asia.
“Malaysian football’s growing and over the next five to 10 years it’s just going to get better and better and a lot more people are going to respect it more.”